Don't Wait for your Team to be Productive

Productivity doesn't come on its own, why not give it a push?

Many hurdles are preventing us from being productive in the office, be it colleagues stopping for a chat or a needless team meeting over something simple. It can be challenging to maintain a constant state of productivity. Now that companies are gradually embracing the opportunities of remote work, a new challenge has arisen for both employers and employees alike.

Articles like this describe how we, as individuals, can remain productive even while we’re working from home. New distractions (and things you never thought could be distractions) are one thing, but our discipline is another. Remove every distraction possible in your house without changing your mentality first won’t prove to be effective in the long run.

Let’s not forget that remote work has its form of presenteeism. Employees may be online but not on their keyboards. Employees may be online, even while doing something else. Generally, it’s not easy to determine whether an employee is “working” or not, without having the opportunity to see it by yourself. Distanced by one Zoom call, trusting your team can be understandably tough at this point.

How do you know if your team is productive even while working from home?

There are ways to measure productivity even if your team is remote, which are inherently different from measuring productivity at the office. Some track with internal customer-centric metrics. Others go by units of tasks done. It’s up to you to craft your own metric, of course, but ideally, it should be fair and equitable.

At this point, you may have adapted very well to remote work. That can mean anything from finding an ideal routine to setting up various measurements of productivity. Despite so, it’s naive to expect your team to be the same. Since everyone’s adaptation cycle is different, you should take the opportunity to drive employee engagement even while you’re distant.

After all, employee engagement when working from home is more than just a 30-minute group yoga session over Zoom.

What’s this opportunity? Employers can step in to help facilitate the adaptation, especially for generations that are used to office and for those with massive, unremovable hurdles at home. By having a hand in it, employers can:

  1. Drive productivity levels at an accelerated pace, which creates a win-win situation for both the employees and employers. Employees will feel that they are doing their work and thus, feel less at risk of being laid off in uncertain times. Economic pressure is a huge issue during the pandemic (which I talk more about in my previous newsletter).

  2. Help employees feel more “connected” with the company. Rather than group yoga sessions and lunch over Zoom, these are the things that can help employees feel motivated and engaged even while being away.

Understanding Remote Work

To get in-depth with the intricacies of remote work, speaking to fully-distributed teams and semi-distributed teams is the best choice. Although every company has their version, it’s not surprising to see a general framework that companies apply. For instance, Buffer uses radical transparency to help drive employee engagement.

An excellent way to start is by asking your senior leaders some questions. What sort of remote work life do you envision in the company? How would you expect people to work even while they are not in the office? How will you reasonably determine whether someone is working well or not?

By answering these questions, you can easily reverse-engineer. Hence, to fully grasp the concept of remote work, you have to first:

  1. Understand how remote work generally works, be it through a course or someone else’s experience. A general framework will be good enough. Some good examples will be, setting “core hours”, and being lean with meeting durations.

  2. Understand what remote work means to your company, especially when your industry is generally not fond of remote work, or has been adverse to it for a while now. Remote work happens differently in many companies, due to cultural, company, individual, and societal contexts.

Once you understand the concept, it’s time to find out how you can drive productivity levels in your team.


Productivity levels are affected by two main factors. Let’s look at them individually.

Company

Like mentioned above, it’s naive for a company to expect employees to simply “get used to it”. That’s not going to work, and you’d be lucky if you can find employees that can become consistently productive during this period.

A company’s contribution to ensuring productivity levels is essential. It can mean:

  • Providing the right tools. For instance, you can tap on government grants to ensure everyone has the right technology to work remotely. Some might tap on company funds too. That can mean anything from stable home wi-fi to even a laptop (depending on the budget, of course).

  • Setting fair, equitable productivity measurements. It’s absurd to measure productivity with time present. It’s even more so during remote work. Start by looking at individual tasks, internal success metrics, and other contributions outside of their assigned to-do list.

  • Alleviating employee costs. If you had welfare benefits that were previously for the office, it’s time to channel some of them back to the company. For instance, you can still retain food delivery credits and award your team with that every month (which will be used even faster, especially since everyone is at home). You might also give WeWork coworking space allowances or Starbucks gift cards so that employees can head to other locations when economies open up.

  • Relax on the scrutiny. No one wants to be micromanaged, and it often happens with remote work. If your team can work asynchronously, keep it that way.

  • Be lean with time. Don’t hold needless zoom meetings. If you want to have remote team bonding sessions, specify a time where they can block on their calendar, but don’t force participation.

  • Remain positive. It’s okay to be neutral and real about circumstances, but don’t let it stop there. You can always remain positive and encouraging to spur employees on.

Individual

We are all different in the way we work and understanding that is important. Some may find pushback in setting routines, while others may find it tough to manage their time efficiently. This is where you step in.

  • Have one-on-ones. This is the best time to form connections, especially when everyone is either feeling lost, anxious, or distant. Block out time for individual employees and talk to them. Show your team that you actually care for them, rather than simply expect to them to “get to work” immediately.

  • Understand your team members’ biggest hurdles. Everyone has their own unique challenge. For some, the challenge may be as unmovable as a young toddler at home. Others may be facing difficulty in understanding how they can set up their daily schedules. By understanding their hurdles, you can see how you can adjust your treatment so that they can perform better.

  • Scrutinize without being a micromanager. Let your team know that although you’re helping them, they have to still play their part by being accountable for themselves. As their leader, you also have to step in and ensure the business goals are met (and your goals, as well). Loose monitoring is enough to see whether some employees are dipping in productivity and needing rest. Keeping your eyes peeled helps you to catch concerns and trends fast enough before they become permanent.

Knowing that you can influence the way people go back to their usual productivity cycles, what will you do in the company? Remote work has its limitations, but it is not without its benefits. While we lose the physical connection we can have in the office, we have traded that for the comfort and efficiency or working at home.

Rather than force everyone to pick up the pace, you have to be the beacon of light during this crisis. Understand your own team and create opportunities for them to grow: that way, it’s more than just win-win situation.